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Legislature passes bill to reform civil asset forfeiture

The legislation reforms the procedures through which the state can seize assets because the owner is accused of criminal wrongdoing.


The Alabama House on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 210, establishing stronger due process protections for property owners subject to civil asset forfeiture. The legislation reforms the procedures through which the state can seize and sell off assets because the owner is accused of criminal wrongdoing. Shortly after House passage, the Senate voted to concur with the House changes to the bill. SB210 then went to Gov. Kay Ivey.

Senate Bill 210 is sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and was carried in the House by state Rep. Andrew Sorrell.

Civil asset forfeiture is when the state seizes the assets of an individual who has been suspected of having obtained those assets through criminal activity or are using those assets in the performance of criminal activity. It is common practice for assets, such as cars, boats, trucks, and money suspected of being used in the illegal drug trade to be seized by law enforcement at the time of arrest. Those assets are then forfeit and the law enforcement agency then profits off of the sale of the seized assets.

Sorrell explained that the legislation limits seizures of cash to more than $250 and vehicles at $5,000. This is a negotiated bill. Sorrell thanked the Alabama District Attorney’s Association for working with him and Orr on this.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, said: “I appreciate you bringing this bill. It is a good bill.”

Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said: “This is an excellent piece of legislation.”

State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, brought an amendment asked for by the Alabama Credit Union Association to add mortgagees.

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“This important legislation allows our law enforcement to continue to deter criminal activity and confiscate property obtained through illegal actions, while at the same time ensuring that the due process and rights of the property owner in question are protected,” Orr said after the legislation passed the Senate. “I appreciate the Alabama District Attorneys Association for working with the legislature to reach an agreement on this critical bill for law enforcement and for the citizens of our state. I look forward to the House now taking up this bill so we can give Alabamians the assurance that their right to due process is protected.”

Barry Matson is the executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, which agreed to the compromise version of the legislation.

“Asset Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime and criminal enterprises,” Matson said in a statement.

“When the state uses its authority to take someone’s liberty or property, it must be done with transparency and a fair due process. This bill should give confidence to the people of Alabama that its legislature, district attorneys and law enforcement expect nothing less,” Matson said. “I must give my appreciation to Senator Orr, Senator Greg Reed and Senate Leadership for working with Alabama’s district attorneys and law enforcement to make this important legislation possible.”

Monday was the last day of the 2021 Legislative Session. Ivey is currently considering the bill.

Shay Farley is the regional policy director with the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.

“We have seen civil asset forfeiture occur when someone is only facing charges and hasn’t been convicted or when the value of the property forfeited is disproportionate to financial penalties under the law. Taking someone’s property is something that should only be done rarely, and this bill will help protect the rights of innocent property owners. While we maintain asset forfeiture should follow a criminal conviction – in criminal court – Senate Bill 210 will end some of the biggest ills seen in civil asset forfeiture. This is a significant step in the direction of fairness, and we urge Gov. Kay Ivey to sign it.”

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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